by Author rob.hunter

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What is the particular significance of training in musical activity with looked after children?

Implications for practice

The content of training

The Youth Music Evidence Review comments:

"The ‘right kind’ of music leader was perceived to have a number of particular qualities within this context:

  • To have an understanding of the issues looked after children face. While they do not necessarily need to know detailed information about each participant’s background, an understanding of the general context and structures in which children in care live and the issues they face will help them to engage and support these young people and to deliver an appropriate project.
  • They needed to be able to empathise, not sympathise, with the young people to support them in exploring and expressing their thoughts and experiences.
  • To be flexible in their practice so that the focus was on delivering a project that matched the needs of the young people rather than a predetermined set of deliverables.
  • To be confident to experiment and work outside their comfort zone, as many of the young people would be doing the same.
  • To be skilled at dealing with conflict-resolution, to ensure that it was dealt with in a constructive and thorough manner.
  • With the support of carers, to be confident in dealing with behavioural difficulties.
  • To have an ability to manage groups in a fair way so that every young person’s voice is heard and none of them are left out or remain ‘unheard’. It was argued that no young person should be let down by the project by not being supported to engage- music leaders needed to ensure that the project did not mirror the “let-downness” (programme director) experienced in the rest of their life.
  • To recognise their own limits and the boundaries of their role, and to recognise when to call in ‘the experts’.
  • To be patient and nurture looked after children, recognising that it may take more time to facilitate their creative expression than is the case with other young people.
  • To have realistic expectations of outcomes. To recognise that what might be seemingly small changes can be a massive achievement for the young person."

‘A brief Learning Framework for Artist Pedagogues’ in Fig 2 Knowledge and skills for artist pedagogues, suggests:

"As well as the skills and knowledge required specifically for achieving high quality child-focused creative practice, artist pedagogues need to know and understand both the world of the child and the particular situation of looked after children including:

  • the circumstances that bring a child into care, and the consequences for looked after children and young people;
  • developmental stages from birth to adulthood and the effects of abuse and neglect on children;
  • emotional and mental health issues which affect behaviour, together with implications for working with children;
  • how children's concerns may be caused by earlier experience (for example, their reactions to being touched or showing a fear of film and being photographed);
  • the local authority's parenting responsibilities and systems, including transport, permissions procedures etc.
  • the roles and responsibilities of foster carers, social workers, residential staff, mentors, advocates etc
  • relevant social and educational policy towards children including those who are looked after by the local authority
  • the social position of children in general and the disadvantaged social position of different groups of children on the basis of, for example, ethnicity, gender, disability, social class and sexuality, factors which may be augmented by the status of 'being looked after in care'."

The Learning Framework suggests in Fig 1 when addressing ‘relevant theories and self-knowledge’ that

"the artist pedagogue is open to learning opportunities such as finding out about relevant theories, such as attachment theory."

In addition there are skills associated with the social pedagogic activity of teamwork and reflective practice.

Organisation of training

Project managers have found it valuable to organise

  • joint training between different stakeholders
  • which contributes to team-building and mutual orientation to the work before the delivery sessions start. The content might include
    • an introduction to the life of the looked after child
    • an introduction to social pedagogy.

Thereafter, a common model is:

  • an emphasis on collective planning before and reflection after sessions
  • a mid-project review in the light of social pedagogic principles: ‘now that we have several sessions under our belt, what light does social pedagogy shine on this work?’

Training of foster carers

Some projects offered  focused and separate training for foster carers around the potential of music in the life of the looked after child and the skills of promoting it. Others addressed this need by integrating foster carer training with the delivery model.

Training of social workers

Limited social worker availability means the provision of training for this group of staff is difficult. Methods which have brought some success are:

  • singing awareness activity at existing social work team gatherings and staff conferences
  • in-house singing activity within residential homes: ‘towards the singing care home’
  • in-depth involvement of social work staff in some project delivery teams.

Illustrations from practice

The content of training

The Sound it Out project, part of the Sing Up NCB programme, reported:

"Before project delivery began we ran five workforce development sessions with the staff team. One of these sessions was also attended by the peer assistants. These sessions were designed to develop a cohesive staff team, to provide an introduction to social pedagogy, to share skills and knowledge and to plan aspects of direct delivery. There were a lot of chances for interaction throughout these sessions which led to the quick development of positive relationships within the team.

"There were six musicians and four support workers attending these workforce development days (two more support workers joined the project later on). For the most part, neither group knew very much about the work of the other.

"These sessions proved extremely effective in sharing the skills and knowledge between the two professional groups. This was a positive benefit that came out very strongly from the evaluations we undertook for these sessions. Professor Pat Petrie delivered a session on social pedagogy which was very useful for the whole group and formed a strong basis for implementing social pedagogic principles in project delivery."

At Myrtle Theatre Company, the Education for Children Looked After Service (the project partner), an Independent Reviewing Officer, a child psychologist, and a foster carer all contributed to the first training session attended by the Myrtle core delivery team. It covered information about the lives of looked after children and foster carers, and elements of social pedagogy. A second session included foster carers.

With the Surrey CYPS project, training opportunities comprised delivering singing and vocal activities to children; vocal confidence, vocal health and song writing. These were offered to a wide range of partners including: social workers, CAMHS workers, foster carers, specialist nurses, music service staff, virtual school designated teachers and youth justice workers.

The Forest of Dean Music Makers project, part of the Sing Up NCB programme, reported:

"We managed to work with MusicLeader and GLOSS (the County Arts in Education Service) to set up an 8 day Music Leader training programme for 15 Music Leaders which Mark Bick led. It covered the basic skills of leading workshops and included sessions on singing (with Liz Terry), song writing (with Hugh Nankevill) working with young people outside the mainstream, child protection and managing challenging behaviour.  It ran from April to July 2010. Feedback from participants was very positive.  Eight of those on the course have been involved as music leaders with looked after children at some stage in this project. A core group of 5 of these, plus myself and a VS learning mentor then had a full day on Social Pedagogy with Myrtle Theatre and Helen Chambers. Individuals have also attended training on safeguarding, Autism, mentoring and on managing challenging behaviour.  Three have attended other Sing Up training sessions, building repertoire, singing skills and confidence.

One Sing Up NCB project commented on an impact of their training which perhaps needs more attention:

“The training had a big emotional impact on the participating artists /singing leaders and reminded us of our responsibility to their welfare and the emotional support we must give them throughout the project.”

Organisation of training

At SoundLINCS, because all the singing leaders were freelance workers, it was felt that training and reflecting on practice needed to take place around events, rather than as separate occasions. This was because of the costs involved in bringing leaders from across a large county together for training.

Myrtle Theatre Company reported that their training was ongoing and practical (which suited most of the leaders learning styles) and took place before each delivery session with group reflection at the end. This enabled us to address issues and learning as needed. 

In Surrey Young Voices, a significant characteristic is that all the training for professionals (social workers, music leaders etc.) was either led or co-led by young singing leaders who were looked after. The project manager commented:

"This was crucial in successfully advocating the sheer importance of music for the young people they work with in a very tangible way"

The Surrey Young Voices  project also made training available to young leaders and included a two weekend residential training course covering outdoor team building activities as well as music sessions. Weekend residentials were seen as beneficial to young leaders as, in the words of a youth worker, they "offer high impact and intense learning for young people". They overcame transport difficulties – arrangements needed to be made for only one event, rather than for a series of evenings - and were more convenient than evening sessions for young people attending school.

Training of foster carers

One project on the Sing Up NCB programme consciously set out to integrate with its Childrens and Young People’s Service  systems in its approach to training.

"By tailoring our work to the CWDC Accreditation scheme for Foster Carers, we focused 3 half-day training sessions on Standard 5 ‘Understand the development of children and young people’. Each session was devised with an overall structure, and Foster Carers could attend one, two or all three sessions and a range of songs were chosen to use as activities to address different aspects of the learning outcomes.


  • CWDC 5:1 ‘Forming Attachments’ we tried different ways of saying ‘hello’ and sang a ‘Name Song, ‘Hello, Hello’ and had fun taking turns to sing the ‘bungalow’ warm up song.
  • CWDC 5:2 ‘Resilience’ we sang songs to help us feel good eg ‘I can see Clearly Now’ & ‘I’m OK’.
  • CWDC 5:3 ‘Transitions’, songs to support routines e.g. ‘Come Dance with Me’.
  • CWDC 5:4 ‘Supporting Play and Learning’, singing playground songs e.g. ‘John Kanaka’.
  • CWDC 5:5 ‘Supporting Educational Potential’, the ‘Chocoholics’ song.
  • CWDC 5:6 ‘Understanding Contexts’ songs to express emotions e.g. I’ve Got a Grumpy Face’
  • CWDC 5:8 ‘Supporting disabled children and children with Special Educational Needs’, songs with repetition and actions e.g. ‘The Little Green Frog’

"Foster Carers were given a handout each session suggesting where different songs might fit into the accreditation sub-sections and they also made notes within the sessions to complete their accreditation booklets at home. They were all very comfortable in making suggestions of changes in lyrics, additional songs and music, which they used themselves as children, but also with their Foster Children.

"All of the songs used for the three sessions were shown on the Sing-Up website, for Foster Carers to access at home and our team produced an audio CD to help them remember and value the songs we had learned together. They all said they would be continuing singing at home.

"During the sessions Foster carers gained confidence in singing as well as recognizing the benefits of singing upon the emotional health of children and young people and indeed themselves as our evaluation forms show. Our Final Song was ‘Great Day’, in which we managed to do all 4 parts. The Foster Carers were so proud of themselves!"

As with all such activity, on some Sing Up NCB projects, foster carer training proved difficult to schedule and organise:

"The Foster Carer Training had aimed to recruit 15 to 25 Foster Carers, but we only managed to get 11 in total. I feel if we had got our funding in place perhaps before the summer of 2010, we could have had a longer period to publicise the sessions.

"Over the three sessions we had 17 people pre –register in total, but we really needed to have over-subscribed the sessions, as we hadn’t expected the drop-out rate we got at our second session for example, when 13 people registered and only 2 came on the day. The apologies were all due to illness, meetings which took priority and domestic emergencies. No-one just didn’t turn up, and the reasons were genuine."

but one project decided to run it parallel with the sessions:

"The decision to run the training sessions for the foster carers alongside the direct delivery sessions with the children proved invaluable. Not only did the carers receive the planned training and development, they also had the opportunity to experience the project in the same way that the children did, developing their singing and creative skills and strengthening their bond with the children through the shared experience. 

"It meant that artists, carers and children alike worked together as creative equals and the benefits of this were many. It also encouraged the foster carers to keep bringing the children as they were enjoying the experience themselves."

Projects  benefited from substantial support with CYPS in organising the foster carer training:

"Our Liaison person between the Foster Carers and us, C- from the  City Council Fostering Services, was absolutely vital to get the Carers we did get. She produced the registers and even publicity leaflets and Certificates which were recognisable to the Foster Carers, by matching them to other courses offered such as ‘First Aid’ for example."

Getting the most influential on board first brought dividends:

"Training was delivered to the Fostering Executive Panel, which proved a great success once fostering colleagues overcame their initial trepidation. This also led to other training opportunities through the fostering support teams."

Training of social workers

Going to where social workers were gathered was a prime strategy in the Sing Up NCB projects:

"Social Workers, Placement Support Workers and Team Managers have participated in workforce development activities.  This has predominantly been within the context of Fostering Team Meetings although less structured opportunities have also been provided by PITCH IN.  Typically these have been opportunities to participate in group singing at Conferences, Training Events and Social gatherings.  We estimate that over 60 Children’s Services staff have participated in practical singing activities."

...and again:

"Following the success of a previous small project, the Deputy Director of Children's Services invited the singing animateur to run a slot at two 300 strong Children's Services Staff Conferences. S_ decided the best way to demonstrate the power of singing was to get them all singing. The change from embarrassed and rigid horror to relaxed fun in 15 mins was amazing. S_ was inundated with enthusiastic responses when she explained briefly the possibilities of developing musical activity with looked after children."

The Leicester Sing Up NCB project describes strong social work involvement in their weekly sessions:

"4 regular CYPS staff supported our weekly singing sessions with foster children. These were 3 senior social workers and a team manager. 2 of the staff were confident with singing in a group and in front of their colleagues from the beginning of the project but for the other 2 there was a noticeable increase in confidence not only in their singing but in the way they communicated to children in the group and their interaction with the team.

"By week 5 of the sessions they were contributing ideas to the sessions, fed ideas into the performance and were giving useful feedback in the briefing sessions. When we performed in front of a mixture of their colleagues and foster carers at the Winter Wonderland event they were confident and enjoyed being part of the performance."

And an attempt to create ‘the singing care home’:

"The full staff team at Barnes Heath residential home have received a day’s training on using singing with children with special needs. 3 staff have now been identified to become specialists to carry on this work as we mentor them to build their singing skills with key children in the home and share this back to the whole team.

"We’re still delivering this work but early feedback indicates that singing is becoming a regular activity within Barnes Heath Residential Home and that the 3 identified staff are eager to share their skills with the rest of the staff team."

Workforce development
What is the particular significance of other forms of workforce development in musical activity with looked after children?

While some music and other professionals learn best on structured training courses led by a specialist trainer, there are other routes to the development of your workforce. These do not necessarily differ in kind for musical activity with looked after children. However, the social pedagogic culture that is likely to surround such projects can include the development of a learning culture in which other routes to learning are developed.

Implications for practice

Development happens for many staff simply through their involvement in a well-conceived and well-run project. They will inevitable learn at one level from experience, make ‘accidental’ observations, have  incidental conversations that turn out to be valuable (

The project manager can enhance the chances of and deepen this learning by

  • Creating a culture in the project which promotes and respects learning
  • Discussing learning needs with staff individually and collectively and taking steps to see those learning needs are met, recognising that different individuals have different learning preferences and trying to ensure that all styles are catered for.

The following methods are not mutually exclusive and are often used in different combinations:

  • Individually tailored programmes, often developed in consultation with your line manager
  • Group-based learning led by a professional
  • Practical: this might involve co-working with someone more experienced; ‘just doing it’ + structured individual and collective reflection; a cyclical ‘plan, do, review’
  • Holding individual learning conversations with those from your own discipline or other disciplines
  • Attending gatherings of staff involved in similar work
  • Reading  articles, exploring accounts of practice e.g. this resource
  • Observing or watching others through DVDs
  • Receiving structured  supervision from your line manager

Illustrations from practice

One project on the Sing Up NCB programme reported:

"Our beliefs are confirmed that creative artists learn best practically. One singing leader could not attend the practical group training and felt “overwhelmed” by being talked to about it and given reading material. Other leaders and artists have said how they appreciated the practical nature of the training."

Another project manager

"saw learning conversations with partners as major vehicles for professional development."

Some appreciated a more structured training course:

"We managed to work with MusicLeader and GLOSS (the County Arts in Education Service) to set up an 8 day Music Leader training programme for 15 Music Leaders which Mark Bick led. It covered the basic skills of leading workshops and included sessions on singing, song writing, working with young people outside the mainstream, child protection and managing challenging behaviour.  It ran from April to July 2010. Feedback from participants was very positive."

Social pedagogic reflection proved beneficial in most Sing Up NCB projects. One reported:

"Overall I think the process of in depth evaluation using the Heads, Hands and Heart model, the reflection process, meetings, gatherings and training has left all of them thinking and saying lots of positive things, being honest about the tough bits, applying the learning they have made but wanting to do more of the work."

Learning conversations were important:

"It's been a huge learning curve, learning about the disadvantage suffered by looked after children– this came out in our conversations with the Durham Access Team. For five or six of the musicians who had already worked with children and adults, they have learned a lot of skills about working with a new demographic.”

And conversations outside the project were welcomed:

"For example, The Sing Up NCB Gathering in Birmingham in April 2010, which marked the beginning of the programme, was attended by all but one of the projects. The two main partners involved in one project commented that it was energising and motivating. It was a rare opportunity to meet colleagues from across the country and to receive helpful materials, including a presentation on social pedagogy."

And the learning for musicians was often substantial:

"Musicians suddenly got a passion when they saw the little changes. Wonderful to work with community musicians who just wanted to keep growing, for example, really seeking to go into depth on autism."
(Social care manager)

A typical response from musicians on the Sing Up NCB programme was:

“The project work has been very hard but rewarding, I have learnt a lot about levels of expectations, seeing past the obvious, recognising a wide range young people achievements outside of singing. It has had a big emotional effect on me but has given me more of a heart for this work in the future”
(Singing tutor)